The Monastery, also known as the 'Heap of Glory', was founded in 1447 by nephew and disciple of Tsongkhapa (founder of Gelukpa sect), Gendun Drup. Gendun Drup was posthumously given the position of the 1st Dalai Lama later on. Because of its association with Geluk founder, the Tashilunpo Monastery is counted amongst the six most important monasteries of the Geluk order.
Tashilunpo became the seat of the Panchen Lamas from the time the 4th Panchen Lama became its abbot. The 4th Panchen Lama and his later successors renovated and expanded the monastery to bring it to its present size. The monastery today spreads over an area of nearly 300,000 sqm and houses around 800 lamas.
For visiting tourists, it is important to know that the monastery is open from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening. Also, remember that the monastery complex of Tashilunpo is huge and confusing. Because of this you need ro take care when you roam around and prevent yourself from getting lost. If you rae desirous of clicking som snaps inside, do ask for the permissions from the lamas.
From the entrance itself, you can see huge buildings with golden roofs and white walls. Most noteable is the the nine floors high Thangka wall which dates back to time of the 1st Dalai Lama. It is on this wall that images of Buddha are displayed during the ceratin festivals. The images are so big that you can see it from any part of the Shigatse city.
On the west side of the complex stands the Maitreya Chapel with a 26.2 m high image of Future (Maitreya) Buddha. Embellished with gold, copper, pearl, amber, coral, diamond and other precious stones, this statue is worth a vist to find out why around 900 craftsmen needed nine years to handcraft it.
Since the chapel has five storeys, you can also climb up and have a pretty close look at the statue.
To the east of the chapel, you can see the Stupa-tomb of the Tenth Panchen Lama adorned with 614 kg of gold, 868 precious stones and 246,794 jewels. This Stupa-tomb was constructed pretty recently, in the year 1993. The first Stupa- tomb of Tashilunpo, belongs to the 4th Panchen Lama and stands to the east of the The Panchen Lama's Palace which itself is close to the Stupa-tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama. The Stupa-tomb of the 1st Panchen Lama is decorated with gold and silver and was constructed in the year 1662. As for the Panchen lama's palace, it is a beautiful white building, but unfortunately closed for locals as well as the visitors.
Another attraction of the Tashilunpo Monastery is the Kelsang Temple which is one of the earliest and grandest buildings in the complex. The main Chnating Hall is the place where the lamas gain knowledge of sutras and receive sermons from the Panchen Lama. Housed in this hall is the 5 m tall statue of Sakyamuni Buddha which is believed to preserve the relics of Sakyamuni Buddha. Two chapels stand on the either side of the Chanting Hall, the left one is dedicated to Tara, a manifestation of Avalokitesvara while the right one honours Maitreya Buddha. In the chapel of Tara, the White Tara is in between flanked by two Green Tara on each side. In the chapel of Maitreya Buddha, the statues of Avalokitesvara and Bodhisattva Manjusri created by the First Dalai Lama stands close to the the statue of Maitreya Buddha which itself stands in the centre. The Kelsang Temple has a great courtyard which is made use of by the monks and the lamas to practice and conduct debate. All around the courtyard, runs a wall filled with innumerable images of Shakyamuni in varying postures and expressions.
While visiting the Tashilunpo, make it a point to explore the treasures of this monastery, specially the wall paintings. These wall paintings are instant attention grabbers because of their variety of shapes, brilliant colours and exquisite painting. Apart from the wall paintings, other treasures of the monastery inlcude murals, rare sutras, thangka, china and glass services of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911).
The Tashilunpo Monastery celebrates the Jigang Dance festival every year on the 4th day of the 8th month of Tibetan calendar. The festival sees the lamas move to the beats of drums, an act supposed to please gods, gain good luck and ward off evil spirits. Humourous mimes are alsopresented with an intention to appease gods, however, sometimes they end up entertaining the spectators. Mass singing and horse races are also a part of this festival.
Shigatse region in the southern Tibet comprise 1 city and 17 counties. This 1 city, Shigatse city, is the second largest one in Tibet after Lhasa but has not become a metropolis as yet. The city stands at the conjunction of Yarlung Tsangpo River and the Nyangchu River and came into limelight when the 1st Dalai Lama ordered the construction of the Tashilunpo Monastery. It became the political, cultural and the religious point of the Shigatse region, which in those days was also known as Tsang.
Today, the city of Shigatse and its nearby areas have a number of wortvisiting Buddhist attractions. Lodging and dining in Shigatse is also conveninet since it has a number of tourists pouring in every year.
- New Palace of Panchen :To the south of the Tashilunpo
Monastery is the New Palace of Panchen, standing amidst the calm
refreshing greenery. The palace, famous as the summer palace of the 10th
Panchen Lama, presents a wonderful amalgamation of the traditional and
modern architectural style. Worthseeing in the monastery are the
splendid interiors of Panchen Lama's bedroom, drawing rooms, sutra hall,
Buddha hall and Buddhist Guardian Hall. A particular fresco, 'Phakpa
Meeting Kublai Khan' is definitely not to be missed. This fresco depicts
Lama Chogyal Phakpa joining the court of Kublai Khan as imperial
- Shalu Monastery : An 11th century monastery, Shalu Monastery,
stands at a distance of around 20 km south of the Shigatse city. This
monastery was constructed by Chetsun Sherab Jungnay and presents a mix
of Tibetan and Han architectural style. The monastery is quiet simple
when compared to other monasteries in close vicinity. Murals inside the
monastery badly need some restoration work. Images of Shakyamuni and
sacred sutras of Tibetan Buddhism are also found in this monastery.
- Narthang Monastery : A famous Gelukpa monastery, the Narthang Monastery is 400 years older than the Tashilunpo Monastery. It dates back to the time when revered Indian monk, Atisha came in Tibet and found Narthang and auspicious site for the construction of the monastery. The monastery has a pretty decent size and houses a well known sutra printing centre. The Kanjur and the Tanjur text are stored in this monastery.
How to Reach
Shigatse city does not have an airport of its own. Hence, you need to fly to Gonggar Airport, 100 km south of Lhasa and then travel by road to Lhasa first. From Lhasa, buses, taxis and coaches are available to transfer you to Shigatse city. The distance between the Gonggar Airport and Shigatse city is around 400 km. The Shigatse city itself is not very large, hence you can roam around on foot. For visiting nearby areas, you can hire a pedicab. The hiring charges for this, however, should be fixed in advance. Buses and coaches also run to different cities from Shigatse city.